‘Where are ye going…
Sure ya never played football!’
One recent evening as I bundled half a dozen U-12 gasúrs into my ‘banger’, a fond neighbour ambled by. He looked at me with that distinctive ever-cynical frown of his and quizzed me thus, ‘Where are ye going?’ His next sudden remark was more chastening ‘Sure ya never played football’. The truth of his analysis stung me as I hastened to Ballintubber Centre Pitch for a six-thirty throw-in. My mind meandered back to Carnacon School yard to distant days from 1958 to 1966. For years we didn’t have a ball. We stuffed empty pint of Motor Oil containers with papers or rags. The shape of the end product dictated we played rugby at break-time. ‘Tom Kiernan’, ‘Ronnie Lamont’, ‘Mike Gibson’ and ‘Roger Young’ all starred as we set up scrum after scrum. Then one perfect day, our teacher, Mickey Waldron R.I.P arrived with a new leather football. I marvelled at its size, its shape, its weight and feel. We were ecstatic! Great duels took place among the ‘turtógs’ in Higgins’s ‘Bottom’. ‘Take on the neighbours…bring on Ballintubber’ became the immediate catch-cry. Mó bhrón…it duly happened. McHales field on Faoi Bawn was our arena of dreams. We set off on foot, on bicycles, on bars of bikes, on carriers, our bells heralding out dreams of glory.
O boy! Ballintubber smashed our visions of victory in smithereens with a first half blitz. I cannot remember many of the Ballintubber players but I do remember the absolute scintillating speed of Ger Feeney and Dave Kelly. Their balance and poise on the ball caused us major problems. Our School team of Seamus Farragher, Des Hughes, (Yours truly…God help us!) Gerry Mahon, Colm Staunton, Séanín Gibbons (J.P), Tony Corbett, Michael John Sheridan, Willie Knight, Charlie Reilly, Eugene Quinn and others contained matters much better in the second half but yet we ended up well beaten.
I swore to myself on that occasion that never again would I or anyone I knew or cared about enter any competitive match as totally unprepared and as naïve as our school team was on that day.
Our football continued in the Priests land or ‘Hughes Field’, as it was then known in Carnacon. We always kept one eye on the road as the dread of being chased off and perhaps caught was a real fear in our young minds.
One evening coming from School I spied a yellow plastic ball in some briars. How it got there still baffles me…perhaps there are Guardian Angels or fairy Godmothers. My arms were scratched and scraped as I retrieved it. And though it was as hard as ‘the hob nails of hell’ and numbed my instep when I kicked it, I still loved it deeply.
We played in my father’s ‘haggard’. The full two bay hay shed was ideal. It was really special to field the ascending ball. One evening, modelling myself on ‘Davy Doris’ (What became of him?) or some such early 1960s Mayo hero, I sent in a high ball…straight over the bar…over the hay shed and on to the roof of the cow barn. Unfortunately that was one of the rare occasions my father happened to be milking a flighty cow. She sent himself, the stool and the tin can sprawling in the channel. The poor man (God be good to him) came bellowing after us threatening havoc on our ball with his penknife.